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Brazzil - Crime - June 2004

The Treacherous Songs of Brazil's Lustful Sirens

Brazil can be a dangerous place for foreign dreamers. We have
seen a good example recently of how things can go terribly wrong.
A 56-year-old Swiss language teacher was thrown from the seventh
floor of his apartment in Rio. A 30-year-old manicurist who was
his long-term girlfriend admitted being involved in the crime.

John Fitzpatrick


Picture About 18 months ago, a reader sent me an e-mail asking for practical advice about a town in the Northeast of Brazil which is notorious for its sex tourism trade.

He said he was planning to spend a couple of weeks there with a girl he had "met" through the Internet and if they got on well he might marry her. He also asked if he would be able to buy a Portuguese phrase book on arrival since he spoke no Portuguese and the girl spoke little English.

This man was middle aged, divorced and had a grown-up daughter. I was astonished by his naivety and carelessness and, although it was none of my business, I warned him he could find himself in great danger and should be extremely careful.

I don't know if he ever found happiness and a new wife but, as I have written before ("Dream on. This is not Brazil!" - http://www.brazzil.com/pages/p143mar03.htm), many naïve foreigners dream of coming here and escaping from reality, generally in the arms of a luscious brown-skinned tropical beauty.

While she is catering to his sexual fantasies, the sun is shining in a cloudless sky, the surf is rolling onto a nearby deserted beach, the palm trees are swaying gently in the breeze, an ice cold caipirinha is within reach on the bamboo table in their beach hut.

And the berimbau is twanging away hypnotically in the background where the local lads are practicing capoeira on the whitewashed ramparts of an old colonial fort, the fishermen are returning with their catch which will shortly be served up as a moqueca capixaba in the local restaurant by a smiling mulatta waitress with gleaming white teeth and swaying hips, and all is well with the world.

Maybe a place like this does exist outside the imagination of these frustrated males but in reality Brazil can be a dangerous place for these foreign dreamers.

We have seen a good example recently of how things can go terribly wrong and the Brazilian dream becomes a hideous nightmare. Reto Franz Ullmann, a 56-year-old Swiss, who worked as a language teacher, was thrown from the seventh floor of his apartment in Leme right in the heart of Rio de Janeiro's tourist district.

A post mortem revealed that he had been tortured before being flung out of the window. He had been gagged, strangled with telephone wire, slashed with a knife and some of his fingers had been broken. For once the police were efficient and arrested two girls, one a teenager, who admitted being involved in the crime.

One of them, Regina da Silva, was the man's long-term girlfriend, a 30-year-old manicurist, who police say planned the killing to get hold of US$ 16,700 the victim had brought from Switzerland just two days previously.

This sum is an absolute fortune in a country like Brazil where the official minimum wage is around US$ 85 a month. Someone earning the minimum wage would have to work for 16 years to attain this amount.

A manicurist is one of a typical dead end "job" for girls who have dropped out of school. Other alternatives are becoming a domestic maid or a prostitute.

Killer Boyfriend

Although the manicurist had been going around with the Swiss for five years police say she had a local boyfriend who was a convicted robber and drug trafficker. She tricked the Swiss into believed that her boyfriend wanted German lessons and he entered the flat with her.

She said her boyfriend attacked the older man because he would not reveal where the money was. She also claimed the victim had jumped out of the window. The boyfriend is still on the run and is believed to be hiding in the Morro São João favela in the north of the city where he is, to all intent and purpose, beyond the arms of the law.

Two other cases spring to mind. About four years ago I met a young Norwegian student while waiting for someone outside the MASP museum in São Paulo. We got chatting and he told me he was on a study exchange and had been here three months.

He enthused about the local girls and said he had been pleasantly surprised at how easy it had been to find a girlfriend. We exchanged cards and went our way. About a year later I saw his picture staring out of the crime pages of a newspaper.

According to the story, he had been missing for five weeks during which time no-one had heard from him. College friends said he had gone off with a girlfriend who lived in the interior of the state and had just disappeared.

I never learned the fate of this young man but think there is a fair chance that he was lured or kidnapped to some deserted spot by the girl and met a bloody end at the hands of her real boyfriend or associates.

A more recent case which gained more publicity concerned a middle-aged Irishman who was a director of the British school in São Paulo. According to news reports at the time, he spent much of his spare time hanging around gay bars and had a liking for rough trade. One evening he returned to his apartment in the company of a younger man and was brutally murdered.

What is interesting in these three cases is that the victims were living here and presumably had legal permission. The two older men obviously spoke Portuguese and were familiar with Brazilian culture yet they paid a price for mixing with the kind of people they would not have spent a moment of their time with in their own countries—younger, uneducated criminally-inclined people from poor backgrounds.

If these people can lose their direction in Brazil what must it be like for someone like my correspondent who thought he might come down here and find a wife in a matter of weeks.

Easy Targets

Foreigners are not the only victims of this kind of crime. Older Brazilian homosexuals are often tortured and murdered by younger toughs and kidnapping is very common.

However, foreigners are often easier victims since they are generally better off, have fewer prejudices than Brazilians, are often politically correct and are far from the restraining influences of their home cultures.

One final example shows that even people who should in theory be completely safe can end up losing. About two years ago a group of six Portuguese businessmen came to the Northeast to have a good time. They were met at the airport by a Portuguese who was related to one of the men.

He had been living in Brazil for a couple of years and had urged his relative to come and have a holiday and bring some friends. Instead of going to their hotel the Portuguese said he had arranged a meal in a local restaurant owned by a friend where there would be lots of sexy girls.

When the group arrived at the so-called restaurant instead of being hugged and kissed by local lovelies they were trapped in a room by a gang which shot and bludgeoned them all to death.

No mercy was shown even though some of the men pleaded for their lives and offered to hand over all their money and goods. Within hours of arriving in Brazil the bodies of this group from the "mother country", all of whom spoke the language and were expecting to receive lavish hospitality, were being dumped into a mass grave which was concreted over.

John Fitzpatrick is a Scottish journalist who first visited Brazil in 1987 and has lived in São Paulo since 1995. He writes on politics and finance and runs his own company, Celtic Comunicações - www.celt.com.br - which specializes in editorial and translation services for Brazilian and foreign clients. You can reach him at jf@celt.com.br.
© John Fitzpatrick 2004

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